Tuesday, August 11, 2009
The Pleasures of Insomnia
I lay awake very early this morning, as often happens, my mind a whirling, restless creature full of thoughts that will not be silenced or made the least bit quieter, even temporarily, so I can sleep. I lay on my right side, my back; then threw myself over onto my left side, wrapping my arm around my pillow and drawing it more tightly beneath my head and neck. I clamped my eyes more firmly shut against the faint light filtering in through my lashes. Finally, after what seemed an interminable time, I looked at the clock, having avoided it till then so I would not have the additional insomniac pleasure of knowing how many hours I counted down tossing and turning before dragging myself, exhausted, from my bed. It was 4:47 a.m.
I got up and walked around the apartment, gazing out the window at the lights of downtown and the gently brightening sky. I logged into my computer and sat on the couch, reading messages and replying to them, aware that whoever I was writing to would see the time stamp and realize my predawn sleeplessness, but it was better than lying awake in my bed. Finally, urged by the beautiful morning shining outside my window, I decided to try something new. I hurriedly dressed, threw a baseball cap over my sleep-tousled hair and drove down to the beach and the seawall. Only a few other cars were parked in the lot as I started my trek by the water.
I walked through the delicate morning light; the blue, white, and pink hues of the lightening sky reflecting onto the water beside me. Everywhere the birds were busy making their living. Seagulls trying to swallow too-large, flat, silver, disc-shaped fish that minutes earlier, had been swimming among the rocks on the bottom of the ocean, crows dropping white-grey oysters upon the rocks in an effort to break open their shells and get at the tender bodies inside, white-crowned sparrows flitting and pecking among the dried grass stems and calling to one another, and stilt-legged herons stalking their breakfast along the shoreline.
At first, I saw few people and reveled in the solitude and the glory of the morning. I felt virtuous and clever to be out so early. But there was something more. I felt immensely grateful – for the sea, the light, the birds, the dew on the plants, the very air I felt filling my lungs. It seemed to me, as I walked, that my life was like the day – sitting there open and waiting and full of possibility. There was a clarity and brilliance to the day. Then I began to meet others, coming and going, making their morning journeys as I was. And I noticed, in their faces, a certain optimism and openness that was missing when I take this walk in the late afternoons. People look you in the eyes in the morning and smile easily and say hello. Later in the day, these same people, or perhaps other people on the same route, their minds full of the day's problems, avoid meeting your gaze and, if they do look at you, keep a carefully neutral expression lest you are tempted to begin a conversation with them. For these new, fresh, smiling, morning people, I was also grateful.
I realize now that I have been missing out on one of the best parts of the day when I sometimes lie in bed staring at the ceiling above me, tossing my body from side to side in an effort to get comfortable enough to drift off again. This morning, my mind, instead of being full of thoughts that torment me, raced with inspiration, plans, empowerment, and joy. Perhaps my body is wiser than I give it credit for and perhaps, next time it wakes me in the fragile dawn hours, I will listen more closely instead of trying to silence it.